There are so many parts of Kent that I have yet to explore, so when my pal Mark invited me to Margate for the day, I could hardly refuse. Mark and his lovely girlfriend Gemma and I became acquainted through mutual friends and their love for a good treasure hunt fixed them fast as kindred spirits in my estimation.
When I told fellow Cantabrians that I was off to Margate, they curled their lip in distaste and said
'Why on earth would you go to Margate?'
Well, that's what I'm going to write about, isn't it?
Why on earth should you go to Margate?
From Canterbury, Margate is simply a hop, skip and a train journey away. Half an hour of countryside gazing or (as I like to do on trains) a daydreaming frenzy and perfectly indulgent opportunity to lose myself in my own imagination.
From the Big Smoke, add an hour. That's triple the daydream time!
Returning to reality and disembarking from the carriage, you'll step into the station and imagine for almost a moment that you're back in the 20s with the high vaulted ceilings and grand cafe, dating from their erection in 1926. You're then likely to spot the soaring tower block directly in front of the parade and realise that it's definitely not the golden era.
It's something a lot more tacky, dated and quite frankly, tired.
Awash with grey on a winter's day, Margate looks bleary, bleak and well past its former glory days as a top seaside jolly spot and yet this, in part, is an element of its charm. Margate it seems, is like an abandonned ballroom; a forgotten waltz and suspended in its own crumbling majesty.
There is a future for Margate, however. Millions of pounds worth of investment is being pooled into the area to regenerate and restore it. This is already evident in the small, independent businesses that have had the sense to pop up here, embracing a vintage style. A number of cafes have also cropped up, lending a European 'cafe culture' element to the area.
What I found most fascinating about Margate was the combination of the old with the new and the gaudy with the minimal. It's almost as if it is were a soup swimming with character; a hectic hodgepodge or a glorious goulash of just about everything and anything.
For a city explorer, Margate is like a giant ageing junk shop, brimming with treasures to be discovered on just about every corner.
Like all good seaside places, it is a grotto of the weird and wonderful set to the soundtrack of the sea and its rhythm.
And speaking of junk shops, Margate is home to the famous Scotts, hailed as the perfect place to spend a rainy day with its three floors of treasures and treats. And so spend the afternoon we did. See for yourself.
We had a thoroughly good time rifling and wandering around.
Later, we stopped by all the small shops and made a point of talking to the owners who were brimming with enthusiasm for their business and ever so friendly. I made promises to go back and interview them one by one.
These little glimpses of Margate's culture shone like beams of sunlight, perforating the drab spell that it has been cast under for such a long time during this dreary recession and it seemed to me that someday in the future, Margate might very well reach the cusp of being something rather spectacular. It kicks and writhes with character and hums with the love of the people who want to make it brilliant again; those that have faith for their town and no fear of the perseverance or the waiting game they might have to play.
Followed by a visit to the Turner Gallery, we completed our trip by a walk along the jagged seafront and passed the tired casinos and attractions. The lights glowed hazily in the driving sleet and wind that whipped through our hair. Eyes narrowed, I caught them winking at me with a tenacity and a promise that one day, Margate would have its moment again.
You might be surprised at what you find.